Parity, a non-existent concept in last year's high school girls basketball state tournament, returned with a furor in Thursday's semifinal action at Target Center.
The contests were far more compelling, including a brutal, yet dazzling, upset bid from Red Wing in class AAA. Taking a stand against Richfield, the top seed in the class, Red Wing jumped out to a 35-25 lead late in the first half, then withstood a Richfield run fueled by Jessica January to pull out a 61-59 win.
Richfield was the second seeded team Red Wing defeated in the state tournament to reach the championship game on Saturday, with third-seed New Prague falling in the quarterfinal round.
The AAA championship, featuring Red Wing and DeLaSalle, could be the most emotional of Saturday's finals. Close friends Tyseanna Johnson, from DeLaSalle, and Red Wing's Tesha Buck will end their high school career playing against each other. The two bonded quickly from their time on the North Tartan AAU organization and often support each other in their athletic endeavors.
Both schools are making their third consecutive appearance in the state tournament. Red Wing has never won a class AAA crown, while DeLaSalle seeks its third straight title and eighth overall for head coach Faith Johnson-Patterson.
Drama will seep its way in the class AAAA championship as well. For the first time in several years, Hopkins is legitimately vulnerable, but remain a strong contender to take home a third consecutive title in the state's biggest division for basketball. However, rocky starts against St. Michael-Albertville in the quarterfinal round and Osseo in the semifinal will offer plenty of tape for Bloomington Kennedy to study before Saturday.
Kennedy has longed for another shot at Hopkins after their lone regular season meeting in November. Although the AAAA title game will pit the first and second-seeded teams for the trophy, a win could revive interest that has sagged in a combination of overwhelming dominance and low intramural support for the Hopkins girls program.
"Nothing's going to be close. Nothing's going to be easy. If we go out there and play our hardest, I know we'll come out on top," said Kennedy senior Jade Martin.
2013 marked Kennedy's third state tournament appearance in school history. In each trip, the Eagles have advanced to the championship round.